– Author: Rav Jeremy Koolyk

A fundamental premise in Halacha is that the laws of the Torah are only binding upon adults but are not binding upon minors.[1] From the halachic perspective of a minor, there are absolutely no obligations to fulfill or restrictions from which to refrain.[2] Nevertheless, the halachic perspective of an adult vis-a-vis a minor is very different. In this article, we will explore an adult’s obligations both regarding directly causing a minor to violate the Torah and allowing the minor to violate the Torah under the adult’s supervision (without directly causing the violation). We will give specific attention to the case of an adult causing or allowing a minor to violate the restrictions of Yom Kippur.

Katan Ocheil Neveilot – Allowing and Directly Causing a Minor to Violate the Torah

The Talmud (Yevamot 113b-114a) relates the following story:

רב יצחק בר ביסנא אירכסו ליה מפתחי דבי מדרשא ברשות הרבים בשבתא, אתא לקמיה דרבי פדת, אמר ליה: זיל דבר טלי וטליא וליטיילו התם, דאי משכחי להו מייתי להו.

Rav Yitzchak son of Bisna lost the keys of the beit medrash in the public domain on Shabbat. He came before Rabbi Pedat, who said to him: Take a boy and a girl and let them play there [in the public domain], for if they find them [i.e. the keys] they will bring them [to you].

Although it would be a violation of Torah law for an adult to carry the keys from the public domain to the private domain (hotza’a, a forbidden melacha of Shabbat), Rabbi Pedat advised that children be brought to the area in which the keys were lost in the hopes that they would find the keys and bring them to the private domain. The Talmud infers from this ruling that Rabbi Pedat is of the opinion that “katan ocheil neveilot ein beit din metzuvin l’hafrisho,” “if a minor is eating neveilot (meat that was not properly slaughtered, i.e. non-kosher meat, thus violating a Torah prohibition), the beit din[3] is not obligated to separate him from it.” Thus, it would be permitted for an adult to witness the children desecrating Shabbat and not intervene, as he has no obligation to prevent the children from violating Torah law. There is a dissenting view in the Talmud, which holds “katan ocheil neveilot beit din metzuvin l’hafrisho,” “if a minor is eating neveilot, beit din is required to separate him from it.”

The dispute, according to the Talmud, revolves around how to understand the verse that prohibits eating insects. The Torah (Vayikra 11:42) commands, “lo tochelum,” “you shall not eat them [insects],” and Chazal expound that the pasuk can also be understood to mean “lo ta’achilum,” “you shall not feed them [to minors].” The stringent opinion that holds “beit din metzuvin l’hafrisho” interprets the injunction of “lo ta’achilum” not only as a prohibition against actively feeding insects to minors, but also as an obligation to separate minors from eating insects even if they are eating them of their own accord. The lenient opinion, which holds “ein beit din metzuvin l’hafrisho,” understands that the injunction of “lo ta’achilum” is only a prohibition against engaging in “sefiyah b’yadayim,” directly feeding a minor, but if a minor happens upon an insect, there is no requirement to prevent him from eating it.[4] The Talmud makes it clear that even the opinion that requires adults to separate minors from Torah prohibitions concedes that there is no requirement to separate a minor from a rabbinic prohibition. Based on the precedent of Rabbi Pedat and the surrounding discussion of the Talmud, the Rishonim[5] rule in accordance with the lenient opinion, “katan ocheil neveilot ein beit din metzuvin l’hafrisho.”

Enabling a Minor to Violate the Yom Kippur Prohibitions

The day of Yom Kippur is characterized by five severe restrictions: Eating/drinking, bathing, applying oil to the body, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. Like the rest of the mitzvot of the Torah, the laws of Yom Kippur are only obligatory for gedolim, adults, but are not obligatory for ketanim, minors.

The Talmud (Yoma 78b) states:

תנו רבנן: תינוקות מותרין בכולן, חוץ מנעילת הסנדל. מאי שנא נעילת הסנדל – דאמרי: אינשי עבדו ליה. הנך נמי, אמרי: אינשי עבדו ליה. – רחיצה וסיכה – אימר מאתמול עבדי ליה! … והא מותרין לכתחלה קתני! אלא: הנך דלאו רביתיהו – גזרו בהו רבנן, הנך דרביתייהו הוא – לא גזרו בהו רבנן.

“The Rabbis taught in a baraita: Minors are permitted in all [of the Yom Kippur restrictions] except for wearing leather shoes. Why is wearing leather shoes different? Because people will suspect that adults dressed them in the leather shoes. The other [restrictions], too, people will suspect that adults administered them [i.e. bathed or applied oil] to the minors!? Washing and applying oil [will not raise this suspicion] since people will reason that the minors were bathed or anointed from the day before Yom Kippur… But doesn’t the baraita state that minors are totally permitted in these restrictions [i.e. it is even permitted for an adult to bathe or anoint the minor]? Rather, this [i.e. the restriction against wearing leather shoes], which is not essential to the growth of a child, the Rabbis decreed should be forbidden for a minor; these [i.e. bathing and anointing], which are essential to the growth of a child, the Rabbis did not decree a prohibition.”

The Talmud initially assumed that minors are only permitted to engage in the Yom Kippur restrictions by themselves, but adults are not permitted to directly administer them to the minors. The Talmud rejects this initial assumption and comes to the conclusion that not only is it permitted for minors to engage in these activities themselves, but adults may even administer them to the minors. Thus, it is permitted for an adult to feed, bathe, or apply oil to a minor on Yom Kippur.

The conclusion of the Talmud in Yoma seems to run counter to the Talmud in Yevamot. In Yevamot, the Talmud concludes that even the lenient opinion, which maintains that an adult is permitted to allow a minor to engage in a Torah prohibition and has no obligation to separate the minor from that prohibition, agrees that one may not directly cause the minor to violate the prohibition (sefiyah b’yadayim). How, then, can the Talmud in Yoma conclude that it is permitted for an adult to feed, bathe, or apply oil to a child on Yom Kippur? Similarly, how can the Talmud imply that only a rabbinic decree stands in the way of an adult dressing a minor in leather shoes on Yom Kippur? Shouldn’t an adult who facilitates any of these activities for a minor be in direct violation of lo ta’achilum?[6]

Enabling a minor to violate a Rabbinic Prohibition

One possible answer to these difficulties is that it is permitted for an adult to engage in sefiya b’yadayim on Yom Kippur because the Yom Kippur restrictions are only rabbinic in origin. Of course, this answer relies on two major assumptions, both of which require analysis. First, it assumes that it is permissible for an adult to administer a rabbinic prohibition to a minor. Second, it assumes that the Yom Kippur restrictions are only prohibited by rabbinic law. Let us explore, in turn, each of these assumptions.

The Talmud (Yevamot 114a) states that even according to the stringent opinion that an adult must separate a minor from violating the Torah, that is true only regarding a biblical law, but an adult is not obligated to prevent a minor from violating a rabbinic prohibition. The Rashba (Yevamot 114a) posits that this same hierarchy, namely that rabbinic prohibitions are one level more lenient than biblical prohibitions, is also maintained according to the opinion accepted as the halacha, that adults are not obligated to prevent minors from violating even biblical prohibitions. Only directly causing a minor to violate a Torah prohibition is forbidden, but it is permissible to directly cause a minor to violate a rabbinic prohibition. Based on this logic, the Rashba rules[7] that one may cause a minor to violate a rabbinic prohibition if doing so is for the benefit of the minor. The Rambam (Ma’achalot Assurot 17:27), however, unequivocally disagrees:[8]

אבל להאכילו בידים אסור ואפילו דברים שאיסורן מדברי סופרים…

But [for an adult] to directly feed a minor [a forbidden food] is forbidden, and even if [the food is only] forbidden on a rabbinic level…

Let us now turn to the second assumption, that the Yom Kippur restrictions are only forbidden by rabbinic decree (except for the consumption of food and drink). The Torah (Vayikra 16:29) commands that on Yom Kippur, “te’anu et nafshoteichem,” “you shall afflict your souls.” Beyond this general injunction, the Torah does not explicitly proscribe the five restrictions of the day. The Talmud (Yoma Chapter 8) extrapolates the five restrictions from various verses and establishes that the severe punishment of kareit, spiritual excision, which results from violating the commandment proscribing affliction (Vayikra 23:29), applies only to violating the prohibition against eating and drinking, but not to the other restrictions. Since the Torah’s punishment of kareit applies to the restriction against eating and drinking, it is clear that at least this restriction is biblically prohibited. However, the Rishonim debate the status of the other four restrictions. Indeed, there are indications in the Talmud that the other four restrictions do not share the same origin as the restriction against eating and drinking. Without any biblical sources, the Talmud records several leniencies with regard to the other four restrictions: A king and a bride are permitted to wash their faces,[9] a postpartum woman is permitted to wear leather shoes,[10] a person suffering from a scalp ailment is permitted to apply oil to the scalp,[11] and a person may wash an area of the body that has become soiled.[12]

On this basis, Rabbeinu Tam[13] holds that the other four restrictions are only prohibited by rabbinic law. Despite the fact that they are derived from verses, those verses are mere asmachtot, scriptural hints that the Sages used to support their enactments. This explains why so many leniencies exist with regard to these four restrictions: The Sages who enacted these restrictions in the first place built in several leniencies in cases of extenuating circumstances. Were these restrictions to be of biblical origin, it would be impossible to make lenient exceptions even in extenuating circumstances (short of life-threatening cases) without a scriptural basis for them.

The Rambam,[14] on the other hand, maintains that all five of the Yom Kippur restrictions are of biblical origin. The Ran[15] explains the position of the Rambam: The five restrictions are all of biblical origin, but with regard to four of the restrictions, “mesaran hakatuv lachachamim,” the Torah empowered the Sages to define the exact parameters of those four restrictions. Hence, despite the fact that all of the restrictions are Biblical, the Sages were able to create leniencies in certain cases because the “reins,” so to speak, had been given to them to define the restrictions as they saw fit.

Although the Ran here elucidates the opinion of the Rambam, he ultimately agrees with Rabbeinu Tam in order to explain how adults are able to feed, bathe, and apply oil to minors. The Ran claims that one can understand this only if one assumes, like Rabbeinu Tam, that the four restrictions are of rabbinic origin. As per the position of the Rashba above, the Ran holds that an adult is permitted to directly cause a minor to violate a rabbinic prohibition.  Thus, it is permitted for an adult to enable a child to violate the Yom Kippur restrictions since the adult is merely causing a rabbinic violation by the child.[16]

Giving Kiddush Wine to a Minor

As highlighted above, the Rambam cannot accept the previous explanation, namely that an adult can enable a minor to violate the Yom Kippur restrictions because they are only rabbinically prohibited, because he rejects both assumptions which that explanation presupposes. The Rambam holds both that the Yom Kippur restrictions are biblically prohibited and that it is forbidden to administer even a rabbinic prohibition to a minor.  Thus, we must look elsewhere to find a viable explanation of the Talmud in Yoma according to the Rambam. By analyzing the solution to another quandary involving the prohibition of lo ta’achilum, we can discover how the Rambam understood the Talmud in Yoma.

The Talmud (Pesachim 100b-101a) describes the practice of making kiddush in shul on Friday night. According to the opinion accepted as halacha (Shmuel), “ein kiddush ela b’makom seuda,” one can only fulfill the obligation of kiddush in the place where one will eat his Shabbat meal. The purpose of making kiddush in the shul, therefore, was not to fulfill the obligation for those dining at home, but rather for guests boarding in the shul itself, who would eat their Shabbat meal there as well. Although our modern day guest arrangements have changed such that guests rarely eat and sleep in the shul, the practice of making kiddush in the shul has persisted in many communities in the Diaspora for reasons beyond the purview of this article. This gives rise to the following dilemma: Since no one will be dining in the place that kiddush is made, it is considered “kiddush shelo b’makom seuda,” kiddush recited not in the place of the Shabbat meal, which is not a valid kiddush. Thus, the person who drinks the wine has, in effect, drunk wine before hearing a valid kiddush, which is prohibited.[17] Because of this, the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 269:1) write that the person who recites the kiddush should not drink the wine himself, but rather should offer it to a minor. Ostensibly, the solution of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch does not seem to help the situation: While it is true that the adult who recited kiddush avoids the prohibition against eating or drinking before kiddush, in doing so, however, he violates the prohibition of lo ta’achilum by feeding the minor before kiddush. Thus, the solution seems to merely substitute one problem with another![18]

Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 269:3) answers that it is necessary to distinguish between two types of prohibitions. Some prohibitions are intrinsically forbidden while others are only incidentally forbidden. Meat that has not been slaughtered properly and insects are examples of intrinsically forbidden prohibitions, since they are forbidden to be consumed under all circumstances. Wine prior to kiddush, on the other hand, is only incidentally forbidden because under most circumstances wine is a perfectly permissible beverage and only becomes forbidden under very specific sets of circumstances. Because the prohibition of lo ta’achilum is derived from a verse that prohibits insects, an intrinsic prohibition, it only forbids administering intrinsic prohibitions to minors, while an item that is fundamentally permitted but circumstantially forbidden may be administered to a minor and does not come under the purview of lo ta’achilum. Thus, it is perfectly permissible to give the kiddush wine to a minor even though he has not yet heard a valid kiddush. This, continues Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, is also the rationale behind the ruling of the Talmud in Yoma that adults may administer the Yom Kippur restrictions to minors. Because eating, bathing, and applying oil are fundamentally permissible activities and are only incidentally prohibited because of the time (Yom Kippur), the prohibition of lo ta’achilum does not apply to them. This explanation is also echoed by the Pri Chadash (O.C. 611).

The Hagahot Maimoniot[19] offers a different way to distinguish between various prohibitions in order to solve the kiddush conundrum. The Hagahot Maimoniot distinguishes between issurei lav, standard negative prohibitions formulated negatively by the Torah as “do not,” and issurei asei, unique negative prohibitions that are actually formulated positively by the Torah as “do.” The overwhelming majority of prohibitions in the Torah fall under the first category; these include, for example, “lo tirtzach,” “do not murder,” “lo tignovu,” “do not steal,” etc. Some prohibitions, however, are not stated explicitly as prohibitions, but are rather implied by a positive statement of the Torah. For example, regarding Egyptians and Edomites, the Torah commands (Devarim 23:9): “Banim asher yivaldu lahem dor shelishi yavo lahem bekhal Hashem,” “children that will be born to them in the third generation shall enter the congregation of Hashem.” There is certainly no positive obligation to marry third-generation Egyptians and Edomites. Rather, this positively formulated verse (“shall enter the congregation of Hashem”) is actually communicating a prohibition against marrying first or second generation Egyptians and Edomites. The Hagahot Maimoniot claims that because the prohibition against adults administering forbidden items to minors is derived from the negative prohibition “lo tochelum,” it only applies to prohibitions that are similar to “lo tochelum,” namely issurei lav. It is permitted, however, to cause a minor to violate issurei asei. Since the prohibition against eating or drinking before kiddush does not stem from an issur lav, but rather from the positive commandment of kiddush (“zachor et yom hashabbat lekadesho”), it is permissible for an adult to give the kiddush wine to a minor before he has heard a valid kiddush.

The Beit HaLevi[20] writes that the Rambam’s interpretation of the Talmud in Yoma can be understood based on the premise of the Hagahot Maimoniot. Since the prohibitions of Yom Kippur are not derived from a negative commandment but rather from the positive formulation, “v’initem et nafshoteichem,” they are categorized as issurei asei. Thus, it is permissible for an adult to cause minors to violate the Yom Kippur restrictions just as an adult may feed a minor wine prior to kiddush. The prohibition of lo ta’achilum simply does not forbid adults from causing minors to violate issurei asei.

We have seen three approaches to explain how the Talmud in Yoma permits an adult to feed, bathe, and apply oil to minors on Yom Kippur despite the general prohibition of lo ta’achilum. According to the Rashba and Ran, administering a rabbinic prohibition to a minor (for his benefit) is permitted. Under the assumption that the Yom Kippur restrictions are only prohibited by rabbinic law, it is logical that an adult may cause a minor’s violation of these restrictions. We have also seen two approaches offered by the Acharonim for the Rambam, who could not accept the aforementioned approach. Both of these approaches distinguish between types of prohibitions to which lo ta’achilum applies and types of prohibitions to which it does not: Lo ta’achilum applies either only to inherent prohibitions as opposed to circumstantial prohibitions or only to issurei lav as opposed to issurei asei.

[1] See Avot 5:21 and Bartenura there. A minor is defined, simply, as a male younger than thirteen or a female younger than twelve.

[2] The above is true regarding the obligation to perform the mitzvah itself. Regarding the mitzvah of chinuch, educating a minor in the performance of mitzvot, see Rashi and Tosafot, Berachot 48a, on the line “ad sheyochal kezayit dagan” where there appears to be a dispute about whether that obligation is on the father or the child himself.

[3]Beit din” in this context is not meant to be taken literally, but instead refers to any adult. The Rambam, Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 17:28 and Hilchot Aveil 3:12, writes that although other adults are not obligated to separate the minor from a prohibition, the minor’s father is nevertheless obligated to do so in accordance with the rabbinic requirement of chinuch. According to Tosafot (Shabbat 121a s.v. “shema mina”), however, the whole discussion is only regarding a child who has not reached the age of chinuch. Regarding a child who has reached that age, all adults would be required to stop him from violating a prohibition, and not just the father, as the Rambam holds.

[4] The Talmud (Yevamot 114a) identifies two other places in the Torah where the same dispute exists: The prohibition against eating blood and the prohibition against kohanim coming in contact with a dead body. See further in the Talmud (114a-114b) as to the necessity of three separate verses to teach the same rule. For the sake of simplicity, in this article we will refer to the prohibition of causing minors to violate prohibitions as “lo ta’achilum,” despite the other relevant biblical sources.

[5] See Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 12:7, Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 17:27, and Hilchot Aveil 3:12; Smag, Lavin 65 and 148; Ramban, Vayikra 21:1; Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 343:1.

[6] An analysis of Rashi’s explanation of the Talmud in Yoma serves to sharpen the question. When the Talmud initially assumed that adults are not permitted to directly administer the Yom Kippur restrictions to minors, Rashi (s.v. “inshei”) explains that this assumption is based on the prohibition of lo ta’achilum as recorded in the Talmud in Yevamot. Thus, when the Talmud reverses its initial assumption in its conclusion, it is unclear how it addressed the prohibition of lo ta’achilum, of which it was acutely aware initially, according to Rashi.

[7] See, however, Shu”t HaRashba 1:92.

[8] Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer YD 1:4:4) suggests that the dispute between the Rambam and the Rashba about whether or not an adult is permitted to administer a Rabbinic prohibition to a minor depends on the nature of Rabbinic prohibitions in general. All agree that Torah prohibitions are Issurei Cheftza, intrinsically, objectively forbidden. The Rambam believes that Rabbinic prohibitions are also Issurei Cheftza, and the prohibition against administering forbidden substances to minors should therefore apply to them as well. The Rashba, however, contends that Rabbinic prohibitions are only Issurei Gavra, prohibitions on the person, not Issurei Cheftza, prohibitions on the object. In other words, the Rabbis do not have the power to turn an object that is intrinsically permitted according to Torah law into something that is intrinsically forbidden. They can only forbid a person from engaging with that object. Thus, it follows that there can be no prohibition for an adult to administer a Rabbinic prohibition to a minor because Rabbinic prohibitions are intrinsically permitted and are only forbidden regarding the person. Since the person in question is a minor, who is not obligated in Mitzvot, it would not make sense to prohibit the adult from administering the Rabbinic prohibition to him.

[9] Yoma 73b

[10] Yoma 73b

[11] Yoma 77b

[12] Yoma 77b

[13] Tosafot, Yoma 77a s.v. “ditnan

[14] Hilchot Shevitat Asor 1:5

[15] 1a in Rif’s pagination, “Yom Hakippurim

[16] Note that even Rabbeinu Tam agrees that the prohibition against eating and drinking on Yom Kippur is of biblical origin. Thus, this logic only explains why an adult may bathe or apply oil to a minor, but not why the adult may feed the minor. The allowance to feed minors may be based on a different principle: Since it would be dangerous for a small child to fast, feeding the child is considered pikuach nefesh (saving a life), which is grounds to violate most Torah prohibitions (Yoma 85a-85b). See the extreme conclusion of the Minchat Chinuch (313) based on this logic. See also Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikra’ei Kodesh, Yamim Noraim 43) for a further analysis.

[17] Pesachim 106b, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 271:4

[18] Note that the Shulchan Aruch cannot employ the Rashba’s logic and claim that it is permissible for the adult to give the wine to the minor since drinking before kiddush is only a rabbinic prohibition, as the Shulchan Aruch itself rules (O.C. 343:1) in accordance with the Rambam that it is forbidden to administer even Rabbinic prohibitions to a minor.

[19] Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 29:40

[20] Shut Beit Halevi 1:15

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